Hope you're enjoying your Labor Day weekend; we've sure got some nice weather for it! Its a bit of a change for us; we're used to hot weather through September, so this weather is a nice change of pace for all our fall brassica plantings. Looks like we might just get some decent fall broccoli crops after a few years without; and a rather pathetic spring crop this year!
We had a big breakthrough on the farm this past week. For years, we've been under the assumption that the black organic matter looking stuff stuck to the outside of our potatoes was a result of the compost we use. It sticks to the skins incredibly well and is near impossible to get off, so it's always posed a challenge. We've searched for how to deal with it, but, again, we were always assuming it was compost, which meant we were looking in all the wrong places. Turns out this is a wrong assumption, given it still showed up without us ever applying compost to the soil the potatoes are growing in this year. What we're dealing with is actually called potato scurf and it is a naturally-occurring fungus in Michigan soils that attaches to the potato skin as the plant dies back - who knew this was a thing? Once we learned what it was, we could explain a lot of why we always have such issues with it. A few weeks before we harvest potatoes, we have always tried to mow them down to stop their growth and toughen their skins up to prep them for harvesting. As it turns out, we were worsening our problem by doing this as it triggers the fungus to start developing. As much as it annoys us to see it making an appearance again this year, we've now at least got it identified and can change plans a bit to minimize its effect.
So, with this new found knowledge, we've made a quick shift and have begun harvesting all of our potatoes and packing them in 85# boxes to get them into storage before they die back completely and the fungus kicks into high gear. Obviously, this wasn't part of the plan but now we've got to find a home for somewhere around three tons of potatoes for the next few months. We're going to attempt to fit all 70-75 boxes of them into our 8'x10' walk in cooler that we have at the old farm, so far we've got around 1/3 in with lots of room to spare, but it'll dwindle quickly, we're sure! Turns out there aren't a lot of dark, 45 degree rooms around here this time of year!
To help reduce the disease some next year, we also made quick work of clearing the land we're going to be using for potatoes next year to plant a mustard cover crop. It's a couple weeks later than we'd like, but given we just figured this all out, we thought we'd give it a try. When mustard breaks down in the soil, it releases glucosinolates (sure you were wondering!) which act as natural fungicides that help reduce fungus presence in the soil. Some studies have found it to be nearly as effective as methyl bromide - a common soil fumigant used on large scale farms, without having that pesky side effect of being highly toxic to humans. We typically stick to the traditional cover crops like oats or rye, so we're excited to see how this one turns out.
Other than that, things are pretty typical around here, though we're spending a bit more time harvesting and a bit less weeding and planting. This time of year, the main focus is getting everything out of the ground that we worked at all season. We can't say it's a much slower pace though, as the same amount of work now has to be done with shorter days! We can't complain too much that the mornings are a bit later and the nights a bit earlier as it gives us just a bit more time to relax this time of year.
Well, we'll let everyone get back to enjoying the holiday weekend!
-Brendan & Greta